Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Oh The Memories

Girish Shambu has recently written about the difficulty of and desire for remembering films, their images and their sounds. His post wonderfully evokes the pain and beauty of cinema. An excerpt:

Over the years, I’ve steadily become aware of a film as being not something abstract or intangible but instead a collection of concrete, material details: shots and cuts; bodies, gestures and speech of the performers; movement; sound and music; color and light; d├ęcor; setting; compositions; duration; etc., not to mention absences such as offscreen space and events, and ellipses. A film contains hundreds (thousands) of such details, and in the aftermath of watching a good film, I have a great desire to savor, hang on to, remember those scores of details that struck me, affected me.

We are enraptured by its moving parts and how everything about a good film works together, but these moments are transient. To try to recall or "store" such moments of cinematic feeling in our minds is next to impossible. To me, this is cinema in a nutshell; forever cemented in our minds, yet always fleeting. Every element of a single moving image exists precisely to enable its existence, but is already out of existence by the time we process it in relation to the fluidity of the composition it creates. So, how we construct a memory of cinematic images and the elements contributing to them is central to both appreciating cinema and participating in its being.

Though I think Girish is spot-on regarding this ever-increasing desire of recalling cinematic moments and that how a film tells a story is the story itself, I think the elements (shots, cuts, gestures, bodies, etc.) making up these images, while concrete and material, actually become abstract and intangible. They do so in their embodiment of both oral and written language, somehow always fading away but becoming permanent this process. A maddening duality of opposites, for sure, but this is cinema, as well as the individual and cultural experience with memory.

Focusing on the conrete and material details of the image is the one and only starting point of a knowing criticism of cinema. Visuality has no doubt assimilated elements of orality, literacy, and textuality into its being, but it becomes abstract and intangible in how its various elements interact in such a way that they individually exist differently in relation to one another due to their constant pushing up against each other, challenging each other, juxtaposing with each other, and so on. While formalistic details are the entry point into a responsible criticism, they cannot by themselves account for a lasting memory of cinema. If one can react to and understand what feelings and memories these material details create, only then can she or he comprehend how they do so.

Girish's lament of the imperfection and inevitable failure of cinematic memory is a direct reflection of the abstraction and intangible nature of cinema as created through the complex relations among its concrete elements. These relations create that abstract connection to memory. Therefore, how we perceive and interpret these relationships (and likewise our ability to understand and analyze them) is essential to both experiencing and remembering the transient permanence of moving images.


girish said...

Thank you for writing this response, Ted!

Lots of good food for thought here, lots to chew on...

Ted Pigeon said...

Thanks, Girish. Your follow-up comment on your own blog perfectly sums up what I'm trying to get it here in this post.

I have been thinking more about this idea of remembering moments, which is interesting since it's probably almost impossible to remember everything about a given moment in a good film because every time I return to it, I perceive and likewise interpret it differently.

Also, I find the experience of watching a great film for the first time somewhat maddening, because I know that I am experiencing great cinema and am trying to keep up with so much, i.e. taking in all the sights and sounds, while also attempting to make sense of the intagibles and emotions they are creating in me. Despite being so enthralled by the experience, it is sometimes greatly frustrating, and I feel I have to go back and watch it immediately. That's why writing helps, I think, even if only a little bit, because you're permanently marking down your initial feelings and reactions to a film. They may change with more viewings and your argument may alter its course, but to try to write it down (which is an act of involving oneself in one's feelings and reaction to a film while also a removal from those very reactions) is essential to memory.

I think one of the best quotes about cinema I've read is by Stanley Kubrick; the famous statement, "a film is - or should be - more like music than fiction." He goes on to say something to the nature that the themes, meanings, etc. all come later but that in order to understand them, one must feel the experience of reacting to and engaging the image.